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Get competitive or say goodbye: Unified communications is the future of the travel industry

It is predicted that by 2025, Britain's travel industry will be worth over £257 billion, supporting 3.8 million jobs or 11 per cent of the population. But the sector is vastly competitive – so competitive in fact, that 2013 saw the number of travel companies going into administration increase by 36 per cent. A total of 53 travel agencies and tour operators also entered insolvency. Most of these were located on the high street, whilst online operators and travel companies who embraced technological innovation grew.

It is clear that businesses in the travel industry need to keep up to date with and adapt to changing technologies and trends. Failure to progress risks stunting growth and leaves firms behind their more forward thinking competitors.

The travel industry is one sector that can benefit profusely from unified communications (UC), a technology that combines telephony and IT to reduce costs, enhance services and boost employee productivity. Although the sector has a reputation for investing in technology, it appears many businesses still consider investment in IT as a "cost of doing business" rather than an avenue to innovation and growth.

What is unified communications and why should I care?

A recent study we conducted revealed how big the misunderstandings are surrounding UC in the travel sector. Half of the travel respondents we questioned had not heard of it. Just over 10 per cent had, but could not identify the benefits associated with it. Despite the lack of awareness surrounding it, respondents cited the biggest obstacle to upgrading to a UC platform was "cost", highlighting common misconceptions many have that an "upgrade" will be expensive.

Read more: Affordable unified communications for SMEs: Cobweb's cloud-based Microsoft Lync

What most companies don't realise is that UC was actually invented to ease the cost and burden of too many communication channels. Cost savings can include limiting the use of hardware and energy on site; combining systems together and getting rid of legacy hardware or expensive carrier contracts. Conferencing can be provided as standard so there is no need to use a third party conference bridge and your phone system can be placed in the cloud making installation slicker and calls much cheaper, as well as upscaling simple.

Our survey also unearthed misunderstandings surrounding new communications technologies and the processes behind them such as installation and ongoing costs. Despite respondents identifying the development of key trends such as social media, web chat and mobility, our findings demonstrate most firms in the industry are not aware of the technologies in place to support them. It's clear there is an appreciation that consumer needs are changing and that the industry must adhere to these, but firms are not sure what solutions to implement and to accommodate them. UC also supports remote working, so staff can work from home or easily log in from any other office, giving greater access to knowledge regardless of where they are.

Travel brand Destinology was struggling to keep up with its rapid growth and the resulting complex IT demands it was experiencing. The company's head office was receiving more than 1,000 inbound calls from prospective clients a day during peak seasons, and their existing solution did not allow for efficient call processing by staff.

How can the sector utilise UC to greater effect?

The company integrated a new UC system that provided greater flexibility with bespoke reporting and call routing to reduce operating costs and improve the customer experience. Destinology is now able to analyse call data and more effectively track inbound customer numbers. This has enabled the business to have further clarity on calls, such as ring times, wait times and call costs. It has also provided insights into more efficient call routing to optimise operator's time with customers.

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In an industry so reliant on positive customer experiences, many travel firms need to have a 24/7 presence in order to address customer feedback and take bookings around the clock. Businesses that operate 24/7 need to be able to redirect calls across the globe for operators to address and provide support to. UC enables this process seamlessly, providing businesses with the reassurance that processes are working as efficiently and effectively as possible to please customers and help the business make the most of every sales opportunity.

Moving forward

Mobility, cross-platform convergence, super-fast networks and self-service customer end points are all expected to be big growth areas over the coming years for the industry, all of which can be addressed by UC.

It is clear the travel industry should be doing more to utilise UC to help customers and gain competitive advantage. Whereas a few years ago having an online presence was enough, in a digital age where consumers are connected to technology around the clock, businesses in this sector need to follow suit. Having a 9 to 5 Monday to Friday presence is not enough.

Good UC is not costly and will not only help your business now, it will aid its growth for the next five to ten years. Companies currently stuck using traditional means can now afford to adopt key trends in online and social media without placing unnecessary burdens on their time or IT infrastructure. Can you afford to let opportunities pass you by? It's time to get competitive or say goodbye.

Russell Horton is the COO of Elitetele.comPorthole Ad